New Delta SkyMiles Rules for 2015 Mean Fewer Miles and Award Flights for Frequent Fliers

Savvy SkyMiles Members Will Earn Fewer Miles Per Dollar Spent Starting in 2015

U.S. global carrier Delta Airlines has created quite a stir with recently announced changed to SkyMiles, Delta’s popular frequent flyer program. Instead of earning reward miles based on actual miles traveled (or at least a portion of those miles, depending on fare class purchased and customer status within the program), SkyMiles members will now earn a certain number of miles (again, determined by member status level) for each dollar spent on airfare with Delta.

The changes, which Delta claims in its press release are consistent with other “spend-based” models in the travel industry, are scheduled to go into effect January 1, 2015. The end result for consumers, it seems, is that even at current pricing, SkyMiles member will earn fewer frequent flyer miles for most Delta routes. This is especially true for someone skilled at finding low-cost fares for these routes that still earn miles. Now, for every dollar saved, SkyMiles members will earn between 5 and 13 fewer miles (depending on elite status within the program).

So, the more money you are able to save on Delta flights, the greater the penalty to your SkyMiles frequent flyer account. For me, this is a bit disappointing as I consider Delta the best US airline – by far.

The Death of the Mileage Run?

This is bad  news for consumers who are adept at maximizing their airfare dollars. As all airfare geeks know, the Holy Grail of those who frequently fly is a cheap airfare that ends up costing just a few cents per reward mile earned. Whether or not the flight actually takes them where they want to go is often beside the point. Someone who doesn’t particularly care where they are flying to, but is just flying to earn the miles, is officially on what is known as a mileage run. How will Delta’s new changes affect mileage runners? Well, as they say, “Fuhgeddaboudit!” Delta’s changes to its frequent flyer program have effectively ended the mileage run practice, and most likely signal the beginning of the end for mileage runs as we know them  – on major US airlines, at the least.

It’s just Delta, so what’s the big deal, right? The big deal is that, much like other US states greedily eye the massive tax revenue generated by legal marijuana sales in Colorado and Washington, other major carriers can’t help but notice the positive effect these changes will have on Delta’s bottom line. Many have recently devalued award flights and taken other measures to, as they say, “tighten up” their frequent flyer programs. Delta’s shift from a “miles flown” to a “dollars spent” model will encourage other airlines, starting with those based in the US, to “tighten up” their programs even further. In other words, the changes to the SkyMiles program will exacerbate the current trend toward fewer points or reward miles earned (in terms of both actual miles flown and money spent on tickets), fewer available award flights for which reward miles can be redeemed, and award flights that cost more miles or points than they used to, especially for business class or first class award flights.

Comparing Delta Miles Earned – SkyMiles Now vs. SkyMiles 2015

We used this calculator on Delta’s website to compare miles earned under the current SkyMiles program with miles earned for the same flights under the 2015 rules in 10 popular Delta domestic routes.  For consistency, we used travel dates of April 9-15, 2014 for all comparisons. Please note that you may receive different results based on dates of travel and the resulting fare. The calculator is accurate for non-stop, round-trip flights only. Below is a chart of the comparison results.

Remember that under the new rules you will earn more miles when you spend more money, so if you depart on a weekend day or travel during a month that is typically more expensive, such as December, you will earn more miles than are shown in the chart below. However, our research showed that even typically expensive flights for the same routes will earn significantly fewer miles in 2015 than they do currently. As an example, LAX-JFK on Dec. 20-26, 2014 is currently $508 (it is $308 in our comparison chart for Apr. 9-15). This will earn SkyMiles General Members 2,540 miles in 2015 versus 4,950 currently – approximately 49% fewer miles.

On the first search we found that SkyMiles General Members traveling from LAX to JFK or vice versa on April 9-15 would earn a whopping 68.9% fewer miles under the new  2015 rules (4,950 miles currently vs. 1,540 starting in 2015). Think you’ll be better off because of your elite status? Think again. Diamond Medallion members will earn 69.6% fewer miles on the same flights (11,137 miles currently vs. 3,388 in 2015). Overall, the results from these comparisons seem to indicate that SkyMiles members will earn far fewer miles on most routes, no matter the traveler’s elite status with SkyMiles.

 Winners and Losers

Delta says that the new program rewards its best customers. According to the New York Times, Delta’s best customer is American Express, which buys miles to reward its cardholders and loyalty program members. That seems accurate, because it is quite obvious that Delta’s new SkyMiles program that begins in 2015 will result in fewer miles accumulated for all flyers in all status classes. Despite Delta’s protests to the contrary, that’s really the point, don’t you think?

Delta claims that the “new redemption structure will create more flexibility and expand on ways to use miles”, that “SkyMiles members will benefit from more tickets requiring fewer miles, new One-Way Awards, the introduction of additional miles-plus-cash award options and improvements to award shopping tools”. Whether that information is accurate remains to be seen.

There may be some who are able to point out who the biggest winners will be with the upcoming changes to Delta’s SkyMiles frequent flyer program. Besides Delta Airlines and American Express, we really can’t see any clear winners – or really any winners at all. Among the biggest losers, who are much more easy to spot, seem to be flyers who travel longer distances and those who plan ahead and are skilled at finding inexpensive airfare deals.

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